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Technician skills go high-voltage

Brands at the forefront of electrification develop in-house training for technicians

8 Feb 2022

WITH official repair and servicing qualifications only now emerging as vehicle electrification gathers pace in the Australian market, brands that already offer models with high-voltage battery packs and drive systems have relied on in-house training to upskill technicians.


Though battery electric vehicles (BEV) represented just 1.95 per cent of Australia’s new-vehicle market (including Tesla that does not report its sales figures to the FCAI) last year, that number looks set to increase and sales of hybrid (HEV) vehicles grew significantly to represent about seven per cent of the entire new-vehicle market in 2021.


With myriad electrified vehicles on the launch pad for introduction in 2022 and beyond, the uptake of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models is likely to increase as well, while plans for Australia to become a ‘hydrogen economy’ will generate a market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCEV).


GoAuto asked manufacturers what challenges they anticipated in staffing up – or upskilling existing staff – in line with the increased uptake of hybrid vehicles and the expected proliferation in the number of HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs that will soon enter the market.


A spokesperson for Toyota Australia – the market leader and dominant force in the petrol-electric sector – said the company’s “comprehensive global dealer development program” ensures that “as new technologies are progressively introduced to the market, technicians are provided with the appropriate level of training to address service and repair requirements”. 


“We are well placed to manage the knowledge and skill requirements associated with our expanding electrified vehicle range, due to our extensive experience with hybrid vehicles,” the spokesperson said. 


“Over more than two decades, Toyota Australia and its dealer network have been providing sales, service and repair for components that are core to electrified vehicles.”


MG, the ZS EV of which was the second biggest-selling BEV after Tesla’s Model 3 in Australia last year, said: “As a brand experiencing tremendous growth, there is a concerted focus to ensure that MG’s service offering – including the upskilling and training of its technician base – matches its sales numbers. There is also a focus on dual-motor technology for 2022 and beyond, which requires MG to ensure its technicians are ready for the electrification wave.”


Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) echoed the sentiment of Porsche Australia – its Taycan BEV outsold its iconic 911 sportscar in 2021 – in saying that the biggest challenge was not being able to deliver face-to-face -face training and assessment in a timely manner due to the restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 


“To meet the demand of the business last year, we had to resort to online learning for a portion of the training, however face to face delivery was critical due to assessment requirements,” an HMCA spokesperson explained to GoAuto.


“Given the restrictions, we were limited to the quantity of training and assessment that we could offer.”


Kia Australia, which recently introduced its first standalone BEV model – the EV6 – to this market said its dealers were “welcoming of the EV products and they have engaged with our training to ensure their staff remain safe while working with this new technology”.


“The ‘Train the Trainer’ (program) is performed by our head office in accordance with the requirements of the vehicle. We incorporate and localise these requirements into our local training along with any rules or laws that are in place.”


A BMW Group Australia spokesperson said the company “has and will continue to place significant focus on EV training for our dealer network”.


“We see this as a critical element not only in improving the service offering to our customers but also in upskilling people, which has benefits for the industry overall as we prepare for the influx of new electrified models,” they told GoAuto.


“One of the key challenges we face is ensuring our training is up to speed with the rapidly evolving technology progression in the EV space.


“Fortunately, we have an outstanding team, local facilities and an excellent relationship with our colleagues at our head office in Munich to ensure we can … instil a high level of competence in our training programs in order for our technicians to solely diagnose, service and repair any BMW Group EV.”


Volvo Car Australia said its parent company had provided training and development on electrified drivetrains and diagnostics as part of its apprentice and technician development programs for several years and had encountered no specific staffing challenges in this regard. 


“Volvo Cars provides a global standard of training and qualification of Volvo technicians to work on its EVs, which is consistently applied by Volvo Car Australia,” a spokesperson told GoAuto.


“We achieve this by integrating this training at various levels of the TAFE apprentice programs provided within each state and Volvo Cars Technicians and fourth-year apprentices undergo bespoke technical training at Volvo Cars’ new training facility in Silverwater Sydney.”


Toyota, Hyundai and BMW were notably among the local car companies that had consulted with PwC regarding the proposed introduction of a new qualification – Certificate III in Automotive Electric Vehicle Technology (EVT) – during the previous year.

Meanwhile, Hyundai, MG, BMW and Volvo agreed that, for now, the service and repair of EVs would remain a specific area of expertise within the industry's aftersales network.


“Volvo Cars has recognised that the technical and safety aspects of working on high-voltage systems require well-defined development and qualification pathways, regardless of whether these are provided as part of the tertiary education within each state,” the Volvo Car Australia spokesperson added.


“Upskilling existing technicians between ICE and electric vehicles is just as important as developing the next generations of technicians.”


BMW Group Australia said that working on a BMW HV system required a certified high-voltage technician specific to the generation of the system. However, general service and repair work could be conducted by technicians that completed the HV induction training. 


“It is, and will remain, a specialist area, but as the EV industry evolves and expands, so will the training and the number of professionals in the field,” the spokesperson added.


Having said that, with a view to the future of the industry, there were merits to technicians being taught skills to work on ICE and EV vehicles from the early stages of their training…


“As the volume of electrified vehicles in operation increases, it is important that students (and experienced technicians) can access the required expertise (including formal courses and on-the-job training) to update their knowledge. We’re also developing ICE vehicles that can run on biofuels as well as hydrogen produced from renewables,” Toyota Australia said.


Finally, the companies quoted in this article outlined their immediate goals in terms of upskilling technicians to service and repair electric vehicles within their dealer networks. 


As with Toyota Australia, Mercedes-Benz Australia said its HV training was expanding year-on-year to incorporate new electric vehicles as they were introduced to the market.


“Technicians can access training at our facilities in Sydney and Melbourne and on-site elsewhere in Australia and New Zealand. The HV modules we provide are supported centrally by our head office and delivered consistently across all markets. That support has included the supply of a wide range of tooling and resources directly from the factory, including special testing equipment and necessary PPE,” the spokesman said.


MG Motor Australia and NZ said the brand’s focus on the future of electrification centred on an increase in investment in technical training in general and EV upskilling, in particular.


The brand will soon open a technical training centre Parramatta, which will “allow the company to bring in key dealer service personnel and provide the most up-to-date training in market,” it says. 


“Volvo will continue to provide ongoing training and development. Our new training facility in Sydney provides our dealer network with a centre of excellence for all their sales and aftersales staff. This facility is complemented by Extensive in-dealer training around Volvo Cars new VPS – Volvo Personal Service,” the Volvo Car Australia spokesman said.


BMW Group Australia was on target to have 100 per cent of its dealer network equipped with certified high-voltage technicians and would continue to evolve and enhance its offering in step with technological developments. “HV technician training and certification will continue to play a vital role in 2022 and beyond,” the firm’s spokesman added.


HMCA, meanwhile, would ensure that all of its customer facing-staff will be equipped with sufficient knowledge of hybrid, PHEV, EV and fuel-cell electric vehicles “to address customer questions or concerns in a professional manner” and confidently “explain the basic features and benefits” of such vehicles.


It was also the company’s aim to “ensure that all technical staff will be equipped with the knowledge and skill to perform maintenance, service, diagnosis and repair procedures in a safe and effective manner,” the spokesperson said.


HMCA said it would continue to deliver a range of training and assessment initiatives to support its franchised dealers, such as webinars for all frontline staff and hybrid, PHEV, EV, FCEV maintenance staff (including those who will perform service, diagnosis and repair), as well as “face-to-face training and assessment for all technicians who will be performing the full range of service, repair and diagnosis, including depowering and initialisation.”


Kia Australia, which will offer its EV6 through its entire dealer network, as well as the new Niro small SUV (in hybrid, PHEV and BEV guises), said: “We have regular training that we offer our dealers to ensure they have the needed knowledge and skills to work on our vehicles.”

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